Forgive Mike Tomlin if he wasn't apologizing for his team's "ugly" season-opening win in Buffalo. A decided underdog, Tomlin's team dug itself a 10-0 hole before rallying to defeat the Bills, 23-16. Nine months after losing in Buffalo, the Steelers headed back to Pittsburgh with their first win of the 2021 season.
Echoing a sentiment he has used numerous times in the past, the Steelers head coach of 15 years made it clear that he doesn't care how his team wins, as long as it wins. That's been pretty much the story throughout Tomlin's tenure in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers have never had a losing season with Tomlin at the helm.
"We're not worried about style points," Tomlin said following Sunday's win. "We'll let you guys write whatever stories you want to write. We knew it would be tough sledding. They've got a great defense. They've got continuity, not only in players but schematics. We were playing them in their place. We had a bunch of new pieces. We weren't style point oriented today. We just had to win this game."
It wasn't pretty, but the Steelers defeated a Bills team that is expected to successfully defend their AFC East division title. Here's a look at the players who improved their stock during Sunday's win. We'll also take a look at several players who will look to bounce back during Pittsburgh's Week 2 home game against the Raiders.
He had only 36 receiving yards, but Johnson had five receptions and was Pittsburgh's most targeted receiver. He came down with the Steelers' only offensive touchdown with his 5-yard touchdown reception. Pittsburgh's leading receiver in 2020, Johnson was used similarly to the way the Steelers used Santonio Holmes when he was Ben Roethlisberger's primary target in the late 2000s. Johnson was the recipient of several bubble screens on Sunday, a play the Steelers used ad nauseam when Holmes helped the Steelers win their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy. Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster will undoubtedly hinder his stats, but Johnson will nevertheless be a big part of the Steelers' offense in 2021.
Can Big Ben return to glory? Will Najee Harris rush for 1,000 yards in his rookie season? Get the latest Steelers scoop from Bryan DeArdo, our local expert who's on the ground in Pittsburgh, by downloading the CBS Sports app. If you already have the app, favorite the Steelers to get up-to-the-second news.
DB Tre Norwood
A seventh-round pick, Norwood was one of the Steelers' six rookies who started in Sunday's game. While he had a hand in Isaiah McKenzie's 75-yard kickoff return to start the game, the former Oklahoma Sooner rebounded to have a solid game. Norwood made six tackles, but beyond stats, his effective play at free safety allowed Minkah Fitzpatrick to settle into his new role as a dimebacker, which should create even more big plays from Pittsburgh's two-time All-Pro. Norwood and Fitzpatrick were part of a secondary that allowed Josh Allen to complete less than 59% of his throws. They also held Stefon Diggs to just 69 receiving yards on nine receptions.
OLB T.J. Watt
Pittsburgh's new $112 million man showed absolutely zero rust after not taking part in team drills throughout the summer. Three days after signing his four-year contract extension, Watt racked up two sacks and a forced fumble of Allen while playing in 81% of Pittsburgh's defensive snaps. Watt was complemented Sunday by second-year linebacker Alex Highsmith and veteran pass rusher Melvin Ingram. While he didn't record a sack, Ingram was a consistent presence in Buffalo's backfield. We'd be remiss not to mention Cam Heyward, who had a sack and a fumble recovery.
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Pittsburgh's offensive line outperformed the Bills' offensive line. They also got better after a very inauspicious start. But they still allowed too many hits on Roethlisberger, who admitted to being considerably sore following Sunday's game. They also failed to create much running space for Najee Harris, who rushed for just 45 yards on 16 carries. Playing with four new starters, including two rookies in left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and center Kendrick Green, the unit helped spring Harris loose for an 18-yard run on Pittsburgh's go-ahead scoring drive. They also provided clear passing lanes for Roethlisberger on several occasions during their second-half scoring spree. If they can play they way they did in the second half for four quarters this Sunday, the stock will be up on Pittsburgh's offensive line this time next week.
RB Najee Harris
Don't expect Harris' stock to be down for long. The Steelers' first-round pick is going to be a really good player. But he struggled to connect with Roethlisberger in the passing game after having success as a receiver during his brief preseason work with the QB. Harris will surely work with Roethlisberger on that facet of his game during practice this week in preparation for next week's game against the Raiders. Fans shouldn't be surprised to see Roethlisberger look Harris' way on short routes early and often this Sunday. Harris' rushing totals should increase as he continues to work on building chemistry with his young offensive line.
LB Devin Bush
He was tied with Fitzpatrick for the team lead with 10 tackles, but Bush was devoid of any splash plays on Sunday. He was also late to the play on several occasions that included Devin Singletary's 15 and 25-yard runs in Buffalo's first of two fourth quarter scoring drives. Fans shouldn't press the panic button on Bush just yet; the former first-round pick is still just 22 games into his career after missing most of last season with a torn ACL. But if Bush doesn't have a bigger impact in future games, it will undoubtedly lead to less playing time for him and more playing time for Pittsburgh's backup inside linebackers, most notably Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen.